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Ford takes crossover class by storm with revival of the Puma name

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Given that the Ford Puma of the late 1990s arrived with the bold tagline ‘A driver’s dream’, Ford's decision to reprise the name of its pint-size coupé on the tailgate of a crossover seems perplexing.

With a larger frontal area, a higher centre of gravity and more weight, the Puma clearly distances itself from traditional ‘driver’s dream’ territory where the 1034kg original did everything budgets would allow to get closer.

The contrast between the Puma and the EcoSport is so stark you wonder if the latter wasn’t actually a canny bit of strategic product planning. A great car is made to seem even better by immediate comparison to a really awful one.

But times have changed. Today, the compact crossover class is bursting at the seams with members as manufacturers cash in on demand for SUVs and the mass-market space for more unusual, enthusiast-minded projects has rapidly shrunk.

However, what this segment was long devoid of was something genuinely good to drive, which is where – Ford said – this Puma justified its name. After all, it is the smallest Ford currently on sale, and shares a platform with the now-departed Ford Fiesta, which remains the dynamic benchmark in the supermini class.

The Puma is the first small Ford to use hybrid power, in the form of a 48V system bolstering a three-cylinder petrol turbo engine. The car’s striking design, described as ‘anti-wedge’ by one Ford designer, is intended to steal sales from more premium brands, notably Mini. Strong ergonomics were also promised, with the Puma possessing one of the largest boot capacities in the small SUV class, more passenger space than the Fiesta and what Ford calls the Megabox – an 80-litre compartment under the boot floor. Fully digital instrument dials and level two ‘autonomous’ driver aids should add to its appeal.

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How, then, does the smallest Ford measure up to the likes of the Nissan Juke, Seat Arona, Skoda Kamiq, Renault Captur, Vauxhall Mokka and Volkswagen T-Cross? Let’s find out. 

The Ford Puma range at a glance

The UK Puma line-up is relatively straightforward. Power comes from Ford’s 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol three-pot, which is available with either 123bhp or 153bhp. Each features mild-hybrid assistance and a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but the 123bhp engine can also be had with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Titanium spec represents the entry level and is followed by ST-Line, ST-Line X and ST-Line Vignale. 

If those options sound too sedate, there is also the Ford Puma ST, which now assumes the role of the company’s junior hot hatch. This is offered with the choice of an uprated 167bhp version of the 1.0-litre mild-hybrid engine, mated to the seven-speed auto ‘box, or an electrically-unassisted 1.5-litre unit that is paired with the six-speed manual, and outputs 197bhp.

A battery-electric version of the Puma is in the pipeline, but this is not scheduled to go on sale until early 2025.


ford puma review 2024 03 front end

The Puma is built in Ford's Craiova plant in Romania and sits on the same B2 platform as the Fiesta, although this has been stretched and widened to meet the more spacious crossover brief. The upsizing is considerable, the new model being 146mm longer (95mm of which is accounted for in the wheelbase) and 71mm wider than the supermini, with track width up 58mm.

Naturally, the roofline also sits far higher, while the exterior design rivals that of the Juke for sheer individuality and references the original Puma in its slightly bug-eyed, open-mouthed face. Ford deliberately made the car’s beltline flatter than usual in an effort to keep the car’s proportions balanced and less raked towards the nose, as is commonplace among rivals.

In what is increasingly Ford’s house style, the model name is sprawled across the tailgate in bold lettering, just as it is on the Focus. We think it suits the compact crossover rather well, actually.

Ford is marketing the Ford Puma heavily on its hybrid status. An integrated starter/generator replaces the alternator and, as well as recovering some energy during braking and allowing the car to coast with the engine off, provides torque fill at lower revs for better throttle response and acceleration. The system can add only 37lb ft, so nobody should expect dramatically improved acceleration.

On a related note, with the mild-hybrid system masking lag, Ford has been able to add a larger turbo. Cylinder deactivation is then carried over from previous versions of the non-hybrid Ecoboost engine and can cut three cylinders down to two in just 14 milliseconds under light loads.

With its extra ride height, there is ‘more’ suspension than in the lowriding Fiesta, although the Puma’s rear torsion beam is said to be stiffer and there are firmer suspension bushes and new top mounts. A common crossover bugbear is overly firm suspension, a result of trying to contain a taller body while cornering, so it will be interesting to see how the Puma fares in this respect as it strives for class-topping dynamics.


ford puma review 2024 09 dash

Ford hasn’t been quite as adventurous with the Puma’s interior styling as it was with its bold exterior. In fact, there’s really very little about the compact crossover’s cabin to separate it from any other vehicle in the Ford line-up.

Finished largely in darker shades of cloth and soft and hard plastics, it’s a slightly drab environment in which to spend time. Next to the likes of the more expressive Captur, it feels decidedly ordinary, and almost ascetic when compared with the ritzy Peugeot 2008.

Front seats offer good lateral support. The inclusion of the £300 Comfort pack adds seat heaters and a heated steering wheel as well. Worth it in winter.

But what it lacks in form it makes up for in function. There’s a wide range of adjustability in the steering column and seat base, which affords you the opportunity to sit in a marginally lower, slightly more immersive driving position than you’ll find in many of its rivals. Given the Puma’s heightened focus on energetic driver appeal, this flexibility is welcome.

Long gone are the days when Ford saw fit to adorn its dashboards with an almost infinite selection of tiny buttons, too. The controls for the HVAC system, heated seats and Quickclear windscreen are thoughtfully sized and spaced, while gentle blue backlighting makes them easy to read. The 8.0in touchscreen isn’t quite as difficult as some systems to use on the move, either. The manual gearshifter could sit a bit higher up and squeak a bit less when you use it, mind.

Passenger space in the second row is reasonable enough, but those sat in the back won’t feel quite as separated as they might in a Kamiq or T-Cross. Our tape measure revealed 860mm of head room (the Captur had 920mm) and a typical leg room figure of 720mm (up to 680mm in the Renault).

Parents of young – and messy – children will be glad to know that the front and rear seat covers can be unzipped and cleaned in a washing machine.

The Puma’s boot isn’t quite as capacious as it could be: when the rear seats are in place, it has 401 litres of space, compared with 422 litres in the Captur. Lift the boot floor, though, and you’ll reveal the Puma’s party piece: the 80-litre Megabox. This hard plastic container is ideal for carrying muddy boots or sodden raincoats and comes with a plug in the floor so it can be rinsed out and drained.

Ford Puma multimedia

All Ford Pumas sold in the UK have Ford’s Sync3 infotainment system as standard. This comprises an 8.0in touchscreen that’s used to operate effectively all of the suite’s main features, which include sat-nav, DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Its responsiveness is fine but it wants for graphical sophistication – particularly in comparison to its Volkswagen Group rivals. The shortcut buttons that run along the bottom edge of the screen give quick access to all of the primary sub-menus, although physical buttons around the display’s border would still be preferable.

FordConnect comes as standard across the range, too, adding a wi-fi hotspot with connectivity for up to 10 devices. Meanwhile, the FordPass mobile app includes handy features such as a vehicle locator and vehicle status checker, so you can verify the fuel level and oil status remotely, and unlock the doors as well.


ford puma review 2024 23 engine

The Puma’s powertrain has a downsized, turbo three-pot capable of shutting off entirely when the car’s coasting; of deactivating a cylinder when running lean; and of using on a 15bhp, 37lb ft electric motor to boost overall efficiency, outright performance or drivability. It works really well 99% of the time to conceal the technical complexity needed to achieve all that.

It hauls the car along from lowish revs with impressive responsiveness and a pleasingly accessible sense of oomph. Perhaps more importantly, it only allows you to become aware of the complexity of its operating brief in the most fleeting moments – sometimes with a hint of inconsistency in its braking response if you happen to knock the car out of gear early when decelerating, or with a slightly abrupt take-up of drive just as you tip into the accelerator pedal. These are problems you’d be likely to become conscious of only if you were anticipating them, though.

Puma feels keen, lithe and engaging in corners, especially for a crossover, yet there’s no price to pay for its athleticism in its ride quality, at least in a Titanium-spec model

Considering how much it plainly does to boost low-rev torque, saving you from otherwise necessary gearchanges, the mild-hybrid system adds much more to the car’s overall drivability than it detracts.

On a wet test day, the Puma took a two-way average of 10.0sec to hit 60mph from rest, a fairly strong if not exceptional showing. But the fact that it was almost 7.0sec (or about 40%) quicker accelerating from 30mph to 70mph in fourth gear than the 1.0-litre turbocharged Juke we tested previously illustrates the difference made by Ford's hybrid system.

When pulling from low engine speeds in higher gears, you can feel the torque it contributes quite clearly – and, if you watch the tacho needle, you can also feel the point in the rev range (just above 4000rpm) when the electric motor has to switch off.

The car has a healthy-feeling outright performance level for mixed road driving and a short, pleasant, well-defined gearshift action. It’s smooth enough and as powerful and stable as it needs to be, under braking, although it’s easier to judge your initial pedal inputs once you’ve learned to squeeze the middle pedal only after you’ve already selected a lower gear.

It’s best not to downshift in the middle of a deceleration phase where you can avoid it, since doing so interferes slightly with the regenerative braking you get from the hybrid system and spoils the initial braking response a little.

The automatic gearbox fails to live up to the engine. In normal mode, it’s much too eager to change up and too reluctant to kick down, which blunts performance when you most need it. Sport mode has the opposite problem; too eager to go down through the gears rather than let the engine rev through the mid-range. The ‘manual’ mode helps with the timing of gearchanges, but doesn’t like to hold onto your chosen ratio under full power.

Ford Puma assisted driving notes

The entry-level Titanium Puma has autonomous emergency braking, conventional cruise control and lane-keeping assist. An optional Driver Assistance pack brings blindspot warning, cross-traffic alert and traffic jam assist systems, among others, and adds ‘intelligent’ distance-keeping functionality to the cruise control.

The systems are generally tuned so as to be quite discreet but can, in most cases, be adjusted for sensitivity and, in some cases, deactivated completely. Even in its most sensitive setting, the lane-keeping aid keeps the driver engaged. However, it didn’t always detect the bounds of a motorway lane through roadworks or in bad weather.

It is able to consistently recognise posted speed limits and offered a speeding warning but couldn’t adapt the car’s set cruise control speed automatically. Still, for a £25k car, the Puma’s assisted driving functionality is fairly extensive and impressive.


ford puma review 2024 02 tracking rear

The Puma was clearly intended to be a crossover hatchback that would handle before it left the designer’s sketchbook.

It’s lower riding and more athletic-looking than most of its class opponents and quite clearly carried certain key advantages forward into its dynamic development phase for its chassis engineers to seize on. Even so, it’s remarkable how well those engineers have done and how clearly this car stands apart from its rivals in a class that has until now struggled to produce anything genuinely appealing to drive.

Titanium cars have smart-looking 10-spoke 17in alloy wheels as standard. ST-Line models also get 17in alloys but in a different style, while ST-Line X cars move up to 18s.

Even in Titanium trim, without the lowered sport suspension of ST-Line cars, its lateral body control and chassis response are excellent; the steering gently meaty in its weighting and crisply incisive in its feel.

Just as the driving position seems to place you only medium-high at the wheel, so the keen, level, agile and engaging handling makes you question whether you’re driving a crossover at all. The car arcs neatly towards an apex and maintains its dynamic composure and chassis balance under load and when driven quickly, and in both respects, the car could easily just pass for a well-sorted, athletic-feeling hatchback.

When the electronic traction and stability controls do intervene in the driving experience, they do so progressively and without intruding at first. The car only gives you the option to disable the traction control, leaving the stability aid on in any circumstances; and just occasionally, once you’ve really got to grips with the potential of the chassis and are at risk of actually enjoying yourself, that does seem a shame when it begins to intrude on the car’s ability to entertain.

Ford Puma comfort and isolation

For a compact crossover so keen on entertaining with fleet-footed, spry handling responses, it’s pleasingly refreshing to discover that ride refinement hasn’t been sacrificed. The impressively tuned suspension provides an enviable blend of close body control and well-mannered fluency when travelling at pace, enabling it to confidently smooth over successive low-frequency compressions.

Its low-speed ride isn’t as prone to upset and agitation as the Captur, either. Admittedly, a T-Cross will more consistently distance you from the sorts of physical and aural intrusions that accompany runs over cratered stretches of road, but the Ford's ability to soften all but the largest impacts means it doesn’t trail too far behind.

That said, it’s worth pointing out that pricier ST-Line and ST-Line X Pumas aren’t quite as liveable with as their Titanium range-mates. Their larger wheels and stiffer sports suspension can add a degree of brittleness into the dynamic equation, particularly around town. If you do opt for an ST-Line Puma, we’d recommend sticking with the 17in wheels. The 18s on the ST-Line X make the ride feel especially harsh on pockmarked town roads.

At motorway speeds, the Puma’s cabin is sufficiently well isolated from wind and road noise to avoid undue criticism, but it doesn’t quite rewrite the playbook, either. The three-cylinder engine can also boom back into the cabin if load is applied at crank speeds below 2000rpm. Still, at a 70mph cruise, our microphone returned a 67dB reading, which is equal to the Captur’s efforts.


ford puma review 2024 01 tracking front

Although the Puma may appear an expensive option in relation to various rivals, this isn’t the case. For one thing, all the available engines are strong and frugal, and for another, even the entry-level Titanium car comes well equipped, with climate control and automatic lights among the amenities included. However, to have the 12.3in digital instrument display, you’ll need ST-Line trim.

Forecasts predict that the Ford will have more robust residual values than even strong rivals such as the Captur and T-Cross.

The Puma performs well against rivals from Renault and VW, retaining a greater share of its value than both the Captur and T-Cross

As for fuel economy – a pivotal battleground in the crossover class – the Ford Puma does well without managing to be exceptional. Officially, the manual Puma yields 51.4mpg. In our real-world testing, the 123bhp engine returned 50mpg on the motorway and near enough 40mpg with a mix of driving for a typical driving range of 360 miles.

The automatic is slightly less efficient, having been officially rated at 46.3mpg.


ford puma review 2024 24 static front

Ford landed what might be its biggest achievement in more than a decade with the Puma. It succeeded where other manufacturers have failed and furnished the all-important compact crossover market with a car that represents the company’s long-standing core strengths brilliantly.

The Puma has really distinguishing design appeal and, for its handling deportment and its universal driver appeal, it rises above the standards of its peers even more clearly. You don’t need the most powerful engine or sportiest trim to experience the car at its dynamic best; and you needn’t accept compromises to practicality, refinement or ride comfort in exchange for any of its dynamic strengths.

The driver’s car this class has been crying out for, and more besides

Much as the completeness of its dynamic performance impresses, the Puma is just a little bit plain and ordinary in terms of on-board technology and perceived quality and it doesn’t excel for fuel economy quite as you might imagine a modern hybrid might; so it misses a five-star score.

Nonetheless, this is unquestionably our number one crossover: more fun to drive than the Kamiq, more comfortable than the Captur and more practical than the Mokka. With the smaller Fiesta now off sale, you could do much worse than to stick the Puma on your shortlist.

Charlie Martin

Charlie Martin Autocar
Title: Editorial Assistant, Autocar

As a reporter, Charlie plays a key role in setting the news agenda for the automotive industry. He joined Autocar in July 2022 after a nine-month stint as an apprentice with sister publication, What Car?. He's previously contributed to The Intercooler, and placed second in Hagerty’s 2019 Young Writer competition with a feature on the MG Metro 6R4

He is the proud owner of a Fiat Panda 100HP, and hopes to one day add a lightweight sports car like an Alpine A110 or a Lotus Elise S1 to his collection.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Ford Puma First drives